Brussels, 05 Aug 2004
New data from Europe's Mars Express orbiter suggests that the Red Planet has witnessed volcanic activity much more recently than was previously supposed.
The latest evidence suggests that volcanoes on Mars may have been active as recently as one million years ago, the BBC reports. Previous estimates suggested that the planet had not been volcanically active for between 500 and 500 million years.
One of the Mars Express mission scientists, Agustin Chicarro, said that the latest data suggests that some of the planet's volcanoes are extremely young. 'For volcanic phenomena, we may be talking about a few million years, meaning in the order of one to 20 million years. But this depends very much on the data we have, and in a few months we may have much better data,' he added.
Researchers attempt to date volcanic activity on Mars by counting the number of impact craters that appear in images collected by the high-resolution stereo camera (HRSC) onboard Mars Express. Those volcanoes with what appears to be the most recent activity include the giant Olympus Mons, and three other large volcanoes known as the Tharsis Montes.
Dr Chicarro refuses to rule out the possibility that Mars may still be volcanically active: 'If [volcanism] does exist, it doesn't mean we have to have major volcanic flows. If, let's say, the last big volcanic explosion happened a few million years ago, it could happen again - or not,' he told the BBC.
For further information on the Mars Express mission, please consult the following web address: